Marked in Flesh Page 69

“You, Ruth, and I need to talk later,” Meg told Merri Lee.

“A lot of us have something to talk about,” Simon growled.

Meg drank some water. Learn the nature of a thing. Until she knew what was in the package, she wouldn’t be able to understand the connection between it and a basket of apples—or why she’d seen something that wasn’t there.

• • •

Monty walked into Captain Burke’s office, followed by Kowalski and Louis Gresh, who closed the door.

Burke eyed the door, then folded his hands on the desk blotter and gave the men his fierce-friendly smile. “I’m usually the one who decides if it’s a closed meeting.”

“This needs to be a closed meeting,” Monty replied.

“There was a ruckus in the Courtyard?” Louis asked.

“Of sorts. Theral MacDonald is all right. She didn’t know anything had happened, or that it concerned her, until I went to the medical office to talk to her. Meg wasn’t available, but Nathan Wolfgard was forthright about what had occurred.”

“So was Pete Denby,” Burke said. “He called me again while you were taking a formal statement from Nathan. The package was inspected?”

Monty nodded. “A box of expensive chocolates, with a card that read, ‘Sweets for a sweet girl.’ No signature on the card, and the only thing the clerk at Everywhere Delivery could tell us was the package was brought to their receiving window just before closing yesterday and the man paid the extra fee for perishable merchandise that needed to be delivered the next morning. The clerk didn’t remember much about the man; just that he looked like he’d been working outdoors—had grass stains on his clothes and dirt on his work boots. There is nothing to indicate the package was sent by Jack Fillmore, Theral’s abusive ex.”

“But?” Burke prompted.

“There are signs that the chocolates had been tampered with. There were no foreign objects inside the chocolates that were examined, so the lab will have to run tests to figure out what was inserted.” Monty swallowed anger. If Meg Corbyn hadn’t reacted badly to the package, Theral could have given the chocolates to the children as a treat. What might have happened to Lizzy, or Sarah and Robert Denby, if anything in the chocolates was intended to incapacitate an adult?

“On our own time, Officer Debany and I have called hotels and rooming houses, particularly those that offer suites that are rented by the week, and haven’t found anyone registered under the name Jack Fillmore,” Kowalski said.

“Which means he’s coming into town for each of these emotional hit-and-run attacks, or he’s staying here under an alias,” Burke said.

“Most likely using an alias, even if he is living and working in another town,” Louis said.

“That might explain the gap in time between when he sent the flowers to Theral to confirm she was working in the Courtyard and this delivery of tampered sweets,” Monty said. “There are a limited number of human-controlled towns and cities within a reasonable drive of Lakeside, and even staying overnight to check on the MacDonald house or watch Theral to try to establish a routine would mean using the scheduled days off work. If Fillmore took any other time off from a job, that would be recorded and form a pattern.”

“We have no proof that Fillmore sent the flowers or these chocolates,” Burke pointed out. “We’ve made assumptions based on Theral’s history with this man, and we were more inclined to take her word because Lawrence MacDonald was her cousin and one of us.”

“So far he—or someone—has tried twice and hasn’t gotten past the front counter in the Liaison’s Office. Actually, it’s the Liaison’s Office that I wanted to talk about.” Monty relayed the information Nathan had given him about Everywhere Delivery becoming Everywhere Human Delivery.

Burke blew out an angry sigh. “Damn fools. If people keep pulling this crap, humans will be evicted from Lakeside. I’m going to ask Pete to check on the land leases, see how much of the city could be lost and how soon. Only the gods know what we’ll do if trains coming and going from Lakeside completely lose the right-of-way through the wild country and the city is no longer a viable destination.”

“The roads between cities are also a leased right-of-way,” Louis said. “And ships moving cargo on the Great Lakes are already in a precarious position. We could be isolated.”

“Every human-controlled city on the continent can be cut off. People have been forgetting that lately.” Burke looked at the three men. “Anything else? No? Then let’s do what we can to keep things smooth.”

Monty, Kowalski, and Louis left Burke’s office.

Thinking about the loss of the right-of-way between cities, Monty went to his desk and called his mother to urge her, again, to pack up and come to Lakeside as soon as she could.

• • •

Simon, Jackson, Blair, Henry, and Vlad stood in a circle around one of the BOWs.

“Your Meg drives around the Courtyard in that?” Jackson asked.

“Can’t drive it around on the city streets, but she does just fine here,” Simon replied, feeling defensive. Meg’s driving had improved over the past few months, so “just fine” was an accurate assessment of her skill. But as he looked over the top of the BOW at Jackson, he understood the real question. “When the bison grow up, they’re going to be bigger than the BOW.”

“Bigger and heavier.” Jackson set both hands on the BOW’s frame and pushed. The little vehicle rocked. “This will buckle if a bison hits it.”

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